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New York’s New Bill on Hair has everything to do with race + nothing to do with Textured Hair


New York's recent Bill S6528A, aimed at diversifying cosmetology education, is sparking important conversations about race and the textured hair industry. As a seasoned professional in this field, I see this bill as a complex issue that requires a nuanced understanding. 


Bill S6528A, is a new law recently passed in New York that makes it a requirement for all cosmetology students to complete training that includes all hair types inclusive of texture. If you’re a consumer you may be wondering “Isn’t this already part of the curriculum?” It’s not. It’s not standard for cosmetology schools to teach about textured hair. If you’re wondering why, it’s as simple as it looks. The curriculum is racist. 


Allure magazine recently wrote an article highlighting the historical passing of Bill S6528A by New York. It states that the goal of this new bill is to “diversify cosmetology school education in order to equip all students — regardless of race — with the knowledge to work across every hair texture .” Many prominent members of the Textured Hair community reposted screenshots of the article and it garnered much traction and opinion. Most popularly noted is Felicia Letherwood, famously known for being the hairstylist to Issa Rae. Her post of the article as it stands has gotten 4,790 likes and 356 comments. The comments equate to a mixed review of the bill but more positive celebrations than skeptics. 


This, my friends,  is not a time to celebrate, it’s a time to gather and strategize. 


This bill comes at a time when inclusivity is not only a hot topic, but big dollars. According to Statista.com “the market value of natural hair care worldwide in 2022 …was valued at about 8.3 billion U.S. dollars worldwide, and is forecast to reach to about 12 billion dollars by 2030.”


How convenient a time for a bill such as this to be passed without being touched by anyone who has been steeped in the natural hair industry when this industry has been picking up speed for decades. 


Before we get deeper into this, let me tell you a little about myself. I’ve personally been in the industry for 14 years. I have two salons in the DMV area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), which from my travels is the textured hair capital of the world. My salon services 500-600 clients a month with a widely diverse set of styles in the niche market of textured hair care, and when I say that I mean we do everything with textured hair except straighten it. 


At the end of this read you will understand how a bill such as Bill S6528A passed by New York on November 17th has nothing to do with various textures of hair and everything to do with race. 

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What is Bill S6528A


Here’s what Bill S6528A actually says.


“the general business law to require that regulations setting forth the educational requirements for cosmetologists, natural hair stylists, and trainees include education regarding the provision of services to individuals with all hair types”


“This bill will establish a process to empower cosmetologists with the confidence to consult and work with clients who have textured hair, including those who have types 3A-4c, while maintaining the health and

safety standards they learn in their cosmetology programs. It will also pave the way for consumers of all ethnic backgrounds to feel welcomed, valued, understood, and seen when getting serviced by hairstylists while maintaining health and safety.”


Here’s what you should have noticed:


The bill is introducing changes to the educational requirements for cosmetologists, natural hair stylists, and trainees. Meaning, this bill recognizes that there is a difference between a cosmetologist and a natural hair stylist. “


The most important line of this entire bill is 


This bill will establish a process to empower cosmetologists”


This bill is not for the consumer, but is being done under the guise that it is. And it most definitely is not for the natural hair stylist who is already practicing this sacral work. We’ll get into the sacredness of the work later on. For now, just keep up. This bill very blatantly states who it is intended for. 


The Joys of this new bill and who wins 


The intentions behind the bill are a step in the right direction. Sen. Jamaal T Bailey told Allure “ It's not only common sense, [it’s] the right thing to do. It's personal.”


We should be celebrating such a moment that forces cosmetology schools to be more inclusive of all hair textures. As a Textured Hair salon owner I’ve had to come up with creative ways for recruiting staff because cosmetology schools don’t incorporate curriculum around the hair textures my salon serves. When I see a cosmetologist on a resume I know that doesn’t mean much for the skillset I’m seeking to serve my clientele. 


The up-and-coming cosmetologists win for sure. They will no longer have someone with textured hair enter their salon and have to deliver the words “Oh, I actually have no idea how to do your type of hair.” Many women who go to cosmetology school and grow textured hair naturally already have an inclination on how to style this type of hair. With the current subpar curriculum, they can even end up teaching their fellow classmates how to do textured hair when they are attending school to learn for themselves. So the subset group of cosmetologists who are winning will be the ones who have no experience in how to go about doing our hair. 


The consumer wins too. 


The question should come to mind, Which consumer? It’s a very small percentage for now but is sure to grow in due time. The consumer that wins immediately is the one who lives in a Textured Hair Stylist desert. And yes, your context clues are correct. The consumer that wins is the one who lives in an area where salons that have stylists with experience doing textured hair are far, and few in between, leaving this consumer starving for professional services. 


This group of people will now be able to walk into salons and at the very least not get turned away. 


This bill tells cosmetologists they can’t ignore us anymore. 


It also brings a win to the percentage of camera-facing artists who work on sets of all kinds and are forced to get their hair styled before showing up to work or worse forced to get their hair done by the style team that never thought to hire someone capable of doing their hair. 


Last but not least, we forget the large product brand conglomerates who will soon be able to loosely hire any cosmetologist and know they were “taught” how to do textured hair. 




Who will lose with Bill S6528A?


Drawing from my 14 years in the Textured Hair industry, I've witnessed firsthand the evolving landscape of hair care and the nuances that a bill like S6528A fails to address. 


The group of individuals who will lose with the passing of this bill and any concurrent bill to follow in other states is far greater than the pool of people who will win. 


The number one group who will lose with the passing of this bill is the very people who have created a space for this bill to be passed. The natural hair stylists. Styling textured hair did not become a thing in the 2000s. People born with this hair have been wearing their textured tresses for centuries and the stylists who have been in the trenches cultivating iconic looks and keeping the culture alive have to be part of the conversation.


And nowhere in the history of “cosmetology” did we all go to a cosmetology guru to learn what we learned. Nowhere in the history of textured hair styling did we all pick up the same book and say ok “This is how we do this.” Our skills were passed down like the stories of our African Ancestors. Many of us have a stylist lineage. Where we learned firsthand from someone who learned firsthand from someone else who learned firsthand from someone else. This is for those of us who do this. For those of us who are true to this. 


Why we didn’t garner respect in the cosmetology world and coincidentally are being disrespected by this bill is because we didn't have to go through the typical means to gain this knowledge and to practice this art. Moreover, before social media, the propaganda telling us what was beautiful left our natural hair out of the conversation. So our community and the world were brainwashed into thinking what we have wasn't beautiful nor valuable. But our dollars are speaking now. 


Nothing New Under The Sun


People in our industry have recognized the gap in education and have steadfastly been moving to create formal and informal ways for students to learn about textured hair. What typically happens in most Textured Hair Salons is onboarding includes a whole teaching curriculum created by the owner to teach their staff how to do this work because it’s not taught in schools. One Cosmetologist, named Stasha Harris, has taken it further; Magic Fingers Institute is a brick-and-mortar school located in New York that solely teaches students how to care for and style textured hair using textured hairstyles. Students must complete 300 hours of coursework and hands-on experience to earn their New York State Natural Hair License. On  their About Us page Stasha explains “ The structure of this program is meant to not only educate, but also to empower each student.” 


Filling a Need 


Imagine wanting to learn how to braid and twists and do locs and shopping around at cosmetology schools only to see it’s not in their curriculum. I know this pain point because this was me when I was a junior at the University of  Maryland College Park and made the conscious decision to not enroll in cosmetology school because they didn't teach what I was looking to learn.  States like New York at the very least recognize that we too need to have standards in place that allow for those coming up to learn the skills in a methodical way. 



Brief History of Previous New York Legislation


This very license Magic Fingers Institute offers the opportunity for its students to earn was made possible because in 1993 New York State adopted a Natural Hair Styling License.  According to Natural Hairstyle and Braid Co. (NHBC), “The groundwork [for that license] was laid by a group of visionary Black women stylists, barbers, entrepreneurs and advocates in the nineties to create a license for natural hairstylists and braiders.”


Holes in Bill S6528A


The biggest issue with this bill is that it has the capacity to cut us out of the conversation that involves the very fabric we have spent decades understanding. Us being the actual professional natural hair stylists. The loose language used in this bill has the capacity to disenfranchise the pioneers of the movement and their stylist lineage. 


That same person who used to live in a Textured Hair Stylist desert, who would drive miles to get their hair done and would most likely find a much-needed community that offered more than just a hair service, will have no need to travel anymore. I’m not saying we want them to travel. I’m simply pointing out that the business that was created to cater to their hair is currently a specialty shop that people will travel for. It will lose its client base and value in the community when their services can now be found everywhere. 


Inclusion has never done anything positive for black businesses. That’s not to say it hasn't done wonders for black people and our progress in this independent and capitalistic society but for the black entrepreneur, it has done very little. When America chose to integrate black businesses plummeted because their strong customer base no longer had to go to them. The black salon will feel the effects of their new competition years down the line but the effects will be felt. 


Another hole is that currently Bill S6528A forces cosmetology students to have textured hair included in their curriculum. However, those with cosmetology licenses currently do not have to go back and learn about textured hair. Why?


We May Be Equals, But We Are Not The Same


Based on the language of the bill it implies natural hair stylists will also be required to learn all hair types to continue their public service. But is that necessary? Everyone who goes to college doesn’t leave with the same degree so why are we acting like all hair is the same when it’s not. Yes, the science is the same but the styles are vastly different, the care is vastly different and the relationships are vastly different. 


Should we all have standard safety precautions, absolutely. Should we all learn about the science of hair, of course. But if you get a job at McDonalds you’re not going to have to take a class on how to make pasta. Why should the natural hair stylist have to learn how to do any straight-haired styles if it’s not what they will be doing?


In all of my years, I have never seen or heard of a woman with straight hair going to a Textured Hair Salon and asking for services because she had no other option. This is all about access and resources. There needs to be a part of getting a cosmetology license that covers textured hair and it should be equal to the parts that cover straight hair. Anything less and the (underlying, but really overlying) racism continues.


Textured Hair is only considered a niche industry because the underlying assumption is that we with curly/textured hair are not the main characters. In the current world of cosmetology, that was not built with our hair in mind, how could we be the main character?


The stylist who serves the clientele who fit the current mold of what standard beauty looks like has a very different job than the stylist servicing clients who don’t see their beauty everywhere. Our language is different. Our approach to styling is different. Even something as simple as a trim looks like two different worlds. We may be considered equals as far as two people styling hair but we are not the same. 



The Bill We Actually Need To Level The Playing Field


 

Here's what needs to happen to level the playing field IF we are to use this bill as a basis. 


There needs to be a completely different set of curriculum. What we do should not be a small section of a cosmetology course, it needs its own course of equal stature and hours. Currently, to receive a Cosmetology License in the state of New York you need 1,000 hours, of which 425 are for cutting, shaping, and hairstyling. What we do is so different that Textured Hair should have its own set of 425 hours to cover cutting, shaping, and hair styling. 


For the states that are sure to follow New York’s lead of Bill S6528A current Textured Hair Stylists and cosmetologists should have the option to be grandfathered into the new license if they can pass the new exam.


Call to Action 


I encourage you to educate yourselves on an issue that has been so blatantly racist that many of us in the industry have kept our heads down as we work around it because we have felt so defeated and discouraged. In 2023 it’s hard to believe that if you want to become a loctician you can only do so by teaching yourself or finding someone willing to teach you. Historically there have been no schools. I encourage you to not only ask why but to seek answers.


For my fellow natural hair stylists and future natural hair stylists 


Start a collective in your area and fight for legislation that will create a textured hair stylist license that grandfathers those who can prove they’ve been in it full-time for 3+ years. This license should be similar to that of a barber license where once you have completed your curriculum you are able to do color and cutting.  Natural Hair Stylists should have a separate license and not a chapter in the curriculum book of cosmetology. 


Learning to do this work requires theory and hours upon hours of practice just like learning how to work with fine straight hair which is essentially the main character of the cosmetology curriculum. 


Do not have the system cheapen what we do by cowering it down to a partial part of the curriculum. We must gather our numbers and fight for our industry so at the very least it is guided by the very people who built it. 


The future is bright for all parties 


The beauty about competition is that it really does make everything better, it elevates the best of us. It will weed out the weaklings and have those who were built for it rise to the top. The truth is that no matter what they teach in cosmetology school they can not teach the essence of what we do, which is to garner and nurture profound relationships with the members that make up our respective communities.


For most of us, our hair is not just a  difference in texture, our hair experience is a difference in culture. A difference in conversation. A difference in therapeutic value and a need for community. 


Our hands are steeped in ancestral memory. 


Many of us can recall times we’ve styled hair and not known what we were thinking, in a good way. We know what it’s like to pray over our clients' heads when they come to us with broken tresses and a broken spirit. What it’s like for this work to have us in a trance. We take the therapeutic work and practices we choose to engage in on a daily basis seriously. 


The work we do is deeper than our follicles and bigger than our afros; we simply use hair as a medium to heal our community. As long as we remain vigilant with keeping our integrity while keeping a close eye on what is going on outside of our salons we can remain at the forefront of our industry. 


The big-name brands are coming in with their big pockets and hoping to touch the hem of our sleeves as we practice our ancestral work. They plan to use fancy wrapping paper (using orange, Brown, and green colors of course) to package up what they harvested and project it to the masses using a big budget and a dangerous agenda. 


Our industry is being assaulted in plain sight. And everyone is standing around taking pictures and clapping at the propaganda telling us to be happy that everyone who leaves school will have to learn how to detangle our hair. They’ve wanted to touch our hair for years and now they will have a license to. 


America is a trick bag where the best magicians get ahead. 


May the most creative win.

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